Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

When I'm asked about my favorite place to visit in Asia, Japan takes the cake. Home to some of the most friendly people on planet earth with some of the best food you could ever have, there are few things to not love about Japan. I had the opportunity to visit Kyoto in February of 2018 and have not shut up about it since then. Find my post on Tokyo below or right here!

I know that none of us are traveling right now, and that SUCKS. Truly within the last several weeks, it feels like we are right back in March, where we started this year of chaos. However, I'd love to create a little escapism for you all with some past travels that could propel you into your travel planning in 2021.

If this is something you like (or don't like! I'd love constructive criticism), please let me know via email or in the comments below :) Now, let's get into chatting about Kyoto, my favorite city in Japan.

How I Structure Itineraries

When planning a trip and writing these posts, I like to create "bucket lists," more so than a day by day itinerary. I usually base my writing off my personal experiences as opposed to a place I did not visit, although I do sometimes include places I did not go. However, I will always include a "where to stay" section to ensure the best lodging options!

I tend to vary more on the "type B" personality when it comes to travel, which shocks most people as in real life, I am 100% type A. Travel allows me to let go of plans and go with the flow, but I like to have an idea of places, restaurants, etc. to visit beforehand. I will be writing a whole post on how I plan itineraries soon, but I wanted to share this before we jump in!

Where to Stay

As you know, I am a big fan of Airbnb and utilize it for most trips. We stayed at this spot in the Kameicho area, which was affordable and did not have the frills as we knew we would not be in our place for 85% of our stay. I also love this traditional-style stay, and for a more luxurious option, the Amber House looks to be beautiful! I would suggest staying closer to downtown Kyoto for the most central location.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

When I first started to research Japan, this was a place high atop my bucket list. I pictured myself walking shamelessly through this sprawling bamboo forest, coffee in hand, snapping all kinds of photos, which is precisely what happened in the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. To get here from Kyoto, take the JR Sagano Line to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station, which is about 20 minutes, and walk about 10 minutes to the entrance. If you take anything away from this article, get there EARLY. I was still insanely jet-lagged, so we arrived close to 7:30 am, and it was well worth it to beat the crowds!

Monkey Park Iwatayama

Do I love monkeys? No. Did this stop supply some of my favorite photos and memories of our entire trip? 100% yes. A quick walk up the hill from the bamboo forest (we were in jeans and boots, it is easy!) is the Monkey Park of Iwatayama. This land is a flat park looking out onto the city scape of Kyoto where you have the ability to feed and interact with the snow monkeys. Because it was so early in the morning, we had the entire park to ourselves and enjoyed feeding and taking photos with these monkeys.

Because I feel like I have to explain this: No, the monkey did not take this iconic photo of Liz and me. The sweet park attendant actually dangled some food behind the camera, and the monkey reached for it. We had no idea when he handed the camera back to us that the photo turned out that epic. Should this man work for National Geographic? Probably.

Also: do not look into the eyes of the monkeys. They will attack. As we learned. From personal experience.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha is a holy shrine that was constructed for the god of rice. Thank you, Trip Advisor, for this information two years later. This beautifully built walkway of traditional Japanese architecture is a cannot miss in the Kyoto area. You can make this walk as short or long as you like with a peaceful reverence of Japan's history. We opted to go at sunset; however, this supplied a lot more crowds. A quick walk from the Inari station, it is a perfect short trip on the line. Spot some culturally relevant geishas here as well!

Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)

So trips like these, you tend to get a bit "templed out." However, the Gold Pavilion was unlike anything I had ever seen as it is completely covered in gold leaf and has a breathtaking view. Walk around the immaculate gardens and try to pick a sunny day in Kyoto as the reflection of gold is unparalleled with sunny weather. As featured above, the pavilion can attract crowds so I always recommend off times or early mornings!

Yasaka Pagoda

A scenic photo opportunity that should not be missed! I recommend taking Sannen Zaka Street for views like the ones above. This vantage point gives you the best view of the entire tower, in my humble opinion.

Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony Nagomi

Experience the historic art of making tea and matcha at the Team Ceremony Nagomi. This activity was a last-minute addition, and we were so glad that we had the opportunity to participate. The demonstration is informative and peaceful while learning more about Japanese culture. You also get to make your own cup of Matcha to enjoy at the end of the commemoration!

Ichiran - Traditional Japanese Ramen Experience

I ADORE RAMEN. When I lived in San Jose, California, I made it my mission to find the best ramen in the area (Opinion: it's Orenchi in Santa Clara). However, I quite honestly like most food, and ramen remains a favorite that has withstood the test of time. Ichiran Ramen is known around Japan as having some of the best and most affordable bowls. With the most traditional ordering style, you circle everything you would like (luckily, there are menus in English) and hand it to your chef. The fun part? An individual "cubicle" to enjoy your ramen selection. Visit this location in Kyoto for an entirely memorable experience!

Anyone craving Ramen as hard as I am right now? Let me know what you think of these in the comments below!



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